The purpose of this Alert is to provide you with information on the current situation regarding raw milk in Michigan and Indiana. We have delayed sending out this Alert so that we could give you with accurate and complete information. The situation changes daily as more information becomes available.
This is an Information Alert, not an Action Alert. We will advise you about writing letters and other forms of action when we have a better idea of where best to direct our efforts. Elected officials are currently campaigning for the upcoming elections and charges have yet to be filed against either of the farmers involved. So it is best to put off a concerted letter-writing campaign at this time.
On October 13, 2006 the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) executed a sting operation against Richard Hebron and the Family Farms Coop (FFC), a private membership farm cooperative with about 1,000 members in Michigan and Illinois. Michigan state police and MDA agents pulled Hebron over on his way to his weekly Ann Arbor distribution site and served him a search warrant for the contents of his truck. Agents seized 450 gallons of raw milk, 29 quarts of fresh cream, 11 quarts of kefir, 4 quarts of buttermilk, 9 quarts of yogurt, and 29 pounds of butter, Hebron’s cell phone, and invoices for that day’s distributions. Agents refused Hebron any calls during the four hours he was in their custody.
At the same time Hebron was stopped on the road, officers served Hebron’s wife Annette with a search warrant on their farm and seized their computer, all cow share records, cow herd release agreements, rolodex, invoices, current order sheets, product sheets, delivery schedules, and all raw dairy products in storage on the farm.
In an affidavit left with Annette Hebron, an instance of illness among children of one of the member families was documented as impetus for the investigation. The illness had occurred in April, six months earlier, but did not actually involve consumption of raw milk at all. The family had missed the previous week’s milk delivery and had purchased commercial milk from a grocery store. Three days later all children had become violently ill with gastrointestinal symptoms. The mother’s casual remark to their doctor about the family also drinking raw milk led to the notification of the county health department, and then the department of agriculture. No investigation into the actual cause of the children’s illness has ever been made.
MDA planted a “mole” in the group last May, who signed a lease agreement after being refused purchases of milk and who subsequently obtained various products through the lease agreement between May and October 2006. It was noted in the warrant that the milk was tested by the Michigan Department of Agriculture on more than one occasion. The tests confirmed that the milk was raw and of very high quality. At this time, there are no charges pending investigation.
In a related incident, on October 20, agents from the Indiana Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) visited the farm of an Amish dairy farmer and member of the Family Farms Coop in Middlebury, Indiana. Agents gained permission for an inspection of the dairy by threatening to return with a search warrant and the state police if refused. Agents returned on Monday, October 23 with an affidavit of the inspection and interview details for the farmer to sign, which he refused. Agents indicated that the farmer and Mr. Hebron were violating codes of commerce by crossing state lines with a finished food product.
WHAT WE ARE DOING
A number of groups have sent out emails to elected officials and Department of Agriculture officials in both states, and they have been flooded with faxes and letters. We ask that if you do write at this time, please keep your letters respectful and polite. Many officials are sympathetic to our cause, and we don’t want to turn them off with inflammatory language.
The Weston A. Price Foundation is working with both farmers to help find good legal representation and to formulate an effective legal strategy, and we are standing by to help with legal bills as necessary.
Updates on the case will be posted regularly at www.familyfarmscoop.com where there is information on how to contribute to the Hebrons’ legal defense fund.
For further updates on this situation, visit the site of David Gumpert, a raw-milk friendly reporter with Businessweek.com:
Heather McDougall has kindly offered to serve as the contact person for any farmers who encounter similar incidents in Michigan, Indiana or any other state. She has set up a Yahoo group to keep tabs on this situation at michiganrealmilkrights (at) yahoogroups.com . She can be reached at (734) 320-3722 or heather (at) heathermcdougall.com .
While this situation may seem discouraging, it’s helpful to reflect on other emergency situations we have encountered elsewhere-in Colorado, California, Washington, Virginia, Ohio and other states-all have had positive outcomes and I am certain that this situation will result in a positive outcome as well.